Two words that describe the same thing come at major opposition to one another when looking at the soul of a city or a man: growth and change. Growth is often the term utilized to include a blanket of independent variables regarded in a positive light (height, health, business), while change or changes are the terms deployed to explain or justify negative experience (awkward pubescence, downsizing, relationships). Both New Orleans and Detroit are sister cities experiencing this disparity of articulating the perceived positive and negative impact of growth and change.
Whether your word of choice is growth or change, both are necessary in the evolution of a man or a city because the times are a changin’, and we must all decide whether to stay or go or have it decided for us. I am hopeful that despite any growth or changes experienced, a man or a city can maintain his or its grip on the soul and essence of what feels true, decent, and spectacular all at once.
Here’s my conversation with New Orlean’s own Matt Thomas of the Dirty Bourbon River Show playing tonight at Otus Supply in Ferndale. Despite the obvious differences between his city and my own, allow this conversation to focus on the reality that neither growth nor change can be understood purely as positive or negative, because life isn’t that simple; but always hold onto the part of you that can feel the difference between a good thing, and something that feels anything but.
I understand the last time you guys were in town you played Cliff Bell’s?
Yeah, that’s kind of been our go-to spot in the Detroit area for most of it really… Nice place, we’ve played there a bunch.
Can you talk about the cool relationship between New Orleans and Detroit, sister cities, similar French culture, musical influence and connectivity from a similar spirit and vibe from going through tough times but are on the up and up?
Yeah… I hadn’t thought about it as much before but… when you look at both cities early on, a couple decades ago, when Detroit was really high society and New Orleans, our Canal Street, is completely different now than from what it was. It’s really interesting to see both of them go through a little bit of rebirth right now. In New Orleans we have a bit of an identity crisis going on right now with a lot of new business, new people moving into town, new artists, but a lot of parts of town are becoming more populated than they were, and it’s going through a lot of growing pains in a sense. It feels like both cities are growing again, you know?
Would you agree that like Detroit the soul of the city is being tested against new people coming in, the new businesses, the new model? And you’re hoping the soul can remain a part of the infrastructure?
Sure, absolutely. And I’m sure it’s the same in Detroit, but in New Orleans a large part of it is that more people with money are coming in from other parts of the country, other parts of the world and they kind of have a vision of the way they want things to be, and sometimes that vision doesn’t coincide with the vibe of the businesses or neighborhood that was there already. In one sense the world is constantly getting smaller, people have access to motor transportation and ways to see the country like they never have before. Like the same way you may have noticed people are starting to lose their accents in differents parts of the country, it’s going to be a hard thing to hold onto the important parts of the culture and the spirit of the place but still be open to the fact that it’s going to be getting bigger and things are always going to change. I remember when we first started playing Detroit the area around Cliff Bells was pretty dead and every year we go back there are more businesses, more people, they’re working hard cleaning it up, which is a beautiful thing to see, but you always have to worry about at what expense…
Do you believe music and what you’re doing helps play a role in holding onto the identity and the roots of where a city like New Orleans or Detroit came from?
That’s really what we try to do. There are guys at home that consider themselves true culture bearers, they learned from the old guys and they try to keep things as authentic and traditional as possible, but another aspect of the art and the music is changing things and blending things together, different takes on things; so, what we try to do is an homage to the culture and the music that got us to where we are but try and do something on our own as well. It’s always on our minds. Trying to basically do the city proud, but it’s tough. Some people are a little more sticklers for tradition than others, but the way the city has always gone, an evolution and blending of things, adding a little bit more flavor to the mix.
What are a few of the things that you do or flavors you add that represent that evolution or innovation of yourself in that reflection?
What’s been a lot of fun with the band so far? We’ve had such a diverse cast of people in the band, we all come from different backgrounds, we’re trained in different ways and have different interests coming into it. For myself, a lot of blues, a lot of brass band, a lot of funk music, and that’s what I came up on in my studies and just playing around the city a lot. So bringing the horn player element to it, making it funky, making it danceable, making it a party is what I try to contribute to it. But some of our members have classical training and bring some different elements that way. We’re fascinated by a lot of world music so every time we find a new band or start different into Balkan music or Latin music we get that little inspiration and throw that new flavor into our compositions and our writing.
Playing music is hard. Being an artist is hard. What are some of the things about doing what you love for a living that you try to remind yourself that you’re grateful for doing so even though it will continue to be hard?
The hard part is definitely finding enough time to leave space for your personal life; for your friends, your family your significant other...building a little bit of a home for yourself while you’re on the road all the time. But at the same time, making enough money to get by is tough too. But the experiences I’ve had over the last six years doing this, you couldn’t put a price on it. Playing music in 43 states, seeing most of the country, going to Europe twice now, the types of people I’ve met, the opportunities we’ve had, as far playing festivals or really unique gigs, or just having an off day in a really interesting part of the country like Taos, New Mexico, or in the mountains in Colorado, or the coast of Portland, or the mountains of North Carolina… you get to see all this stuff that if not for music you that you wouldn’t have seen, and meet people you might not have ever met.
If you were walking down the street, who would be the person you’re most excited to meet?
Man, that’s tough. Living or dead?
Stevie Wonder. I would love to pick Stevie Wonder’s brain and meet him. As far as writing, and making interesting, really catchy music that’s musically tough, but really positive that can reach people all over the world, Stevie Wonder is amazing.
Want to know what’s pretty rad about your answer?
The very first musician I ever asked a question to while interning for ABC 53 in Lansing was Stevie Wonder when he was performing at the Michigan Hall of Fame induction.
Yeah, I asked him what his advice was for young, struggling, persisting musicians along the way. He said. “Don’t stop!” [in raspy joyful voice]
Yep! That’s about it, man. You keep your head down, work hard… because there are times when it’s real tough, a lot of self-doubts, and it’s just about powering through. That’s definitely great advice man. He would know too. Never stop practicing, never stop learning.
And in honor of the Cubs championship, Harry Caray and opening day… if you were a hotdog and you were starving, would you eat yourself?
I’m actually on a vegetarian kick right now so I don’t know… but in the sense of survival, I probably would.
$15 doors - GA SRO | 21+ | 9:00 PM